Soccer star Abby Wambach became a household name after leading the United States Women’s National Team to victory in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and also as the woman who presented Caitlyn Jenner with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs, poignantly dressed in a black tuxedo contrasted by Jenner’s stark white Versace gown.
And while she’s been setting records and winning medals for a while now—as a two-time Olympic gold medalist, the 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year, a six-time winner of the US Soccer Athlete of the Year award, and much more—Wambach says winning the World Cup was definitely the highlight of her career so far.
“Now that we’ve won the World Cup, it’s a different realm of fame that gives the sport a level of popularity and promotion you can’t put a price on,” she says. “I’m very proud of that. I’ve been working on that my entire life.”
We chatted with the inspiring star about what her life’s been like post-World Cup, the future of women’s soccer, and her Caitlyn Jenner moment.
How has life changed after the big win? One of the biggest things is the doors that it’s opened for me and my teammates. We are now in a different realm. I don’t want to say celebrity, but we’ve earned a certain level of fame. We want to share this World Cup with our fans—that’s really important to us. We all started playing when we were really young. I want to show young girls if you have hopes and dreams, you can absolutely achieve some of those hopes and dreams. It’s a responsibility to yourself. (Wambach is a big supporter of youth development program Citi Kids.)
What was your experience at the ticker-tape parade? It was unbelievable. I couldn’t believe how popular we felt. We were all on different floats, and we all watched the confetti come down from out of the sky. It was nothing short of incredible. I had never really heard what a ticker-tape parade was. For New York City to open its arms to us and roll out the red carpet meant so much to us.
Why do you think that soccer and women’s soccer is gaining popularity in the US? Soccer has definitely become more popular over the last four years. We captivated an audience in Germany in the 2011 World Cup in our game against Brazil. We came back even with surreal odds. We scored a late goal and then had the last-minute penalty kick. That made some of us household names. And now, obviously the two Olympic gold medal wins and the World Cup.
How do you respond to people who say that women’s soccer is not as exciting as men’s soccer? I don’t know if there is a person I’ve spoken to who’s said women’s soccer is not as exciting as men’s soccer. Actually, I think a lot of Americans would say the opposite, that they enjoy watching us more than the men’s. But, if they do think that, I would say come to one of our games. We play good soccer.
And of course, we have to ask you: How did it feel to present Caitlyn Jenner with her award at the ESPYs? It was such an honor to be up there with Caitlyn to present her the award. The whole thing felt like such a whirlwind. It was definitely one of the most proud moments in my life. We helped save people’s lives. I can’t really say I do that as a soccer player, but that night, we saved people’s lives. —Jamie McKillop
(Photo: Citi Kids)